Sex, Love and Taboo in African Languages

Topics: Euphemism, AIDS, The Culture Pages: 5 (1707 words) Published: May 29, 2012
There is much more to understanding the reluctance to mention HIV/AIDS by its name in African languages than just “taboo”. Discuss and exemplify.

The language we speak deeply reflects and is intertwined with our cultures, thus either expanding or narrowing our views of the world (Kodish. 2003/04). As Valdes (1986:2) says, “...culture, thought and language are three parts of a whole, and cannot operate independently.” Despite the fact that certain topics in African cultures such as sex, death and diseases; HIV/AIDS in particular, are termed as “taboo”, there is much more to understanding the reluctance to mention HIV/AIDS by its name in African languages than just the “taboo” aspect of it such as the desire by the community to avoid offending his/her audience. This essay will comprise of the cultural practice and rituals of the Shona and Xhosa culture; “unhu” and “hlonipha” respectively, and how they link to the discourse surrounding HIV/Aids. Furthermore, in the subsequent paragraphs I will look at the general reasons as to why HIV and Aids is viewed as taboo. Conclusively, I will briefly discuss the underlying factors that result in the culture’s discourse around HIV/Aids.

With the Shona culture, issues relating to misfortune, diseases (Aids in particular), sex and death are still considered as a “taboo” topic of discussion today. As a result of this, euphemisms and dysphemism come in place to ease communication (Mashiri. 2000:225). There is much more to comprehending the unwillingness to refer to HIV/AIDS by its name in the Shona culture than just the fact that it is a taboo. According to Mashiri (2000:225), the notion of “unhu”, plays a major role in the reluctance to mention the taboo HIV/Aids. The notion of “unhu”, “good/ethical human behaviour is central to Shona morality (Mashiri. 2000:225). This cultural practice is similar to that of the Xhosa culture which is “hlonipha” which is made up of substitute words and is a polite and reverend language used only for taboos and the ancestral spirits (Pinnock. 1988:61). Like the “hlonipha” custom, “unhu” is passed on from generation to generation and is greatly respected. From childhood in the Shona culture, this cultural practice of “unhu” is thought to everyone and there is a high aspiration to be considered as “munhu kwaye/chaiye” by the community. This means “living up to the expectations of the community through respect and modest behaviour” (Mashiri. 2000:225). With the cultural practice “unhu”, there are certain proverbs which discourage stigmatisation of an individual in difficulty; such as an Aids patient. Some examples include; “chakaona hama hachisekwi” (One must not scoff at another person's misfortune as no one is immune to natural plight) and “seka urema wafa” (Do not deride those who are in unfortunate situations because in future you might be in a similar predicament) (Mashiri. 2000:225). The reluctance to mention HIV/Aids in the Shona culture is attributed to these proverbs in the “unhu” cultural practice. The use of these proverbs is meant to bring about respect, politeness and peaceful co-existence amongst those inflicted with the disease and to destroy any hostility in the community (Mashiri. 2000:226). Furthermore, the desire by many to attain “munhu kwaye/chaiye” promotes the use of polite euphemisms when talking to or about the individuals with Aids who are looked upon as “outcasts”. Examples of these euphemisms include; “tsono”, meaning “very thin” and “mudonzvo”, meaning “loss of weight” (Mashiri. 2000:227). The use of euphemisms with this cultural practice “unhu” could also be looked upon as the desire to avoid the loss of face or to offend the audience being referred to. As a result of this Shona cultural practice, the individuals are thus limited with their choice of words as they use euphemisms and dysphemisms to communicate with one another which sometimes when translated directly have no reference to the...
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